Friday, October 27, 2006

Barack and Thoughts on Race

Amidst all the Barack coverage, I find it so fsacinating (and saddening at times) how race is still thought of in American discourse. So many paeons to Barack being the possible first African American president. But I find a key elment missing in them.

Interesting to note. His father is from Kenya--so he is originally perhaps African American in a different sense we normally mean from that term. His mother is white. His parents met in Hawaii, where Barack was born and raised. He lived for a few years in Indonesia (with his then Indonesian step-father & mother), moving back to Hawaii raised by his maternal grandparents (who would be white by my reckoning).

So a black-white-Hawaiian from Kansas, Indonesia, Chicago, Harvard, Columbia. A Democrat and Christian (United Church of Christ affiliated), with strong pull in rural districts in his Illinois Senate Race.

I'm not saying he's not black. Charles Krauthammer has an op-ed today where he encourages the Junior Senator to run for Prez. It's well meaning, says some nice things about how a black President would be a great blessing for the US--which I happen to agree with. But there still to me is this strange idea that there's only "black". All the diversity is funneled down to just one label.

We are locked into these monolithic racial categories, seems to me.

John McWhorter opines here on how Obama is getting too nice of treatment precisely because he is black, which however well inteionted, McWhorter still feels does a dis-service to black people. Which may be true, but still assumes, seems to me, only the African American/black element of his background.

Barack to me represents more this post-racial, melded identity or identities really. I don't mind people calling him black--although to be fair I haven't heard anyone call him white, and the case could be made he is equal parts both.

I'm sure there will be charges( if not already) that because of this mestizo background, Barack isn't really black--whatever that means. Or because he is an establishment guy, not because of his mixed racial background, he's not really black. Black in this construct, meaning I guess, automatically against the system.

And there is this interesting question of his relationship vis a vis the descendents of enslaved peoples in America. He certainly is seen I'm sure by others through that lens. Out of college he did work with voter registration and social service for the poor. But his father is not.

Doesn't mean he can't identify with that strain, isn't identified with that movement, to it's just interesting to note. His wife is black. His daughters. And minus his time in Indonesia has lived in the US, so has experienced these emotions, viewpoints firsthand. In Dreams of My Father, Barack writes very eloquently of the spiritual legacy of the African American peoples. Their great connection to the Exodus story, to the God of the oppressed, to graciousness and hospitality, and to care for the poor.

Very similiar to Tiger Woods in my mind and how from a fluid series of backgrounds, individuals, for whatever reasons of their own, projectd onto another one construct.

I think a Barack presidency woudl help heal racial wounds, but not in the way it seems that many others think it would. I think it could help people move beyond these simplistic and outdated notins of race--instead of trying to accept everyone's outdated version we just get to a new place where everybody is shades of everyone else.

Like Salman Rushdie said, we should all keep getting together until we're all brown and olive. Originally we are all from Africa anyway, right?

Or as Morgan Freeman (great last name) said, I don't want African American history month anymore. Because that assumes it isn't American history.

Whatever value that consciousness-raising models had from the 60s, they do perpetuate the notion, I find, that Black History is different, "other" to use the postmodern jargon. Wherever there is other-ness there is fear, hatred, suspicion, even well-meaning guilt (usually among liberals).

Sameness and otherness are two poles co-arising. Like black and white.


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